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Pfizer booster shots available for eligible North Dakotans next week; 2 more COVID-19 deaths reported

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Pfizer booster shots likely will become available next week for North Dakotans seeking a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine following new federal recommendations.

Meanwhile, state health officials on Friday reported another jump in active COVID-19 cases and two more coronavirus-related deaths.

Some vaccination sites could make the Pfizer booster shots available as soon as this weekend depending on how quickly they can update their protocols, said Molly Howell, immunization program manager for the Health Department.

"Booster doses will be available widely across the state," she said.

State health officials anticipate North Dakota will have enough doses of the Pfizer vaccine to avoid having to prioritize which people receive them. A Pfizer booster shot is the same as each of the first two doses -- its contents do not differ. The same sites within North Dakota that distribute the first two doses are expected to offer booster shots as well.

The head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday issued final recommendations for who is eligible. The recommendations apply to people who have received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine already, and for whom at least six months have passed since their second shot.

The CDC recommends that people age 65 and older, residents of long-term care facilities and people age 50 and older with underlying medical conditions receive a booster shot.

Howell said the initial doses of the vaccine "are still highly effective, but we are starting to see waning immunity against infection." She added that the drop in immunity over time has meant some vaccinated people age 65 and older still experience severe COVID-19 symptoms requiring hospitalization if they have a breakthrough case.

The Health Department has worked with long-term care facilities across North Dakota to find providers to administer booster shots at each site. Howell said the state has challenged sites to facilitate vaccinations within the next couple weeks.

The CDC also says people age 18 and older with underlying medical conditions and people age 18 and older who are at an increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of their job or because they are in an institutional setting may choose to receive a third shot.

People with an underlying condition or whose job puts them at a high risk will not need to show proof they are eligible for a booster in order to receive one, Howell said.

State health officials anticipate the federal government will issue guidance in the future for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster shots. Data is not yet available to suggest that a person should mix vaccine brands.

Daily data

The Health Department on its virus dashboard Friday reported 645 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in North Dakota, as well as 3,604 active cases -- a 21% increase from the start of the workweek. Active cases in Burleigh-Morton numbered 988, up 16% from Monday.

The pandemic surge in the past couple of months is being driven by the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.

Confirmed delta cases in North Dakota rose by three over the past week, to 1,115, according to the Health Department's disease control division and forensic pathology section. There were no newly confirmed cases of any of the other five variants that are known to be present in the state.

North Dakota's state lab has now identified 2,510 cases of the six variants, though the actual number is almost certainly higher than the data indicate, since only a fraction of virus test samples undergo the more complex process through which variants are determined.

Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, there have been 128,552 confirmed COVID-19 cases in North Dakota with 123,351 recoveries, 5,103 hospitalizations and 1,597 deaths, including the two deaths reported Friday. The state no longer publicly reports the county, sex and age range of newly confirmed deaths, but the dashboard death totals for Burleigh and Morton counties remained unchanged, at 212 and 104, respectively.

There were 121 COVID-19 patients in hospitals around the state, down four from Thursday. The most recent state data showed 195 available staffed inpatient beds and 15 available intensive care unit beds statewide. In Bismarck, Sanford Health had one available staffed inpatient bed and one ICU bed; CHI St. Alexius Health had no available beds in either category.

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, who is a general surgeon, and other health officials made an urgent appeal Friday for North Dakota residents to get vaccinated and wear masks indoors, The Associated Press reported. Mahoney said hospitals and medical staffs are overwhelmed, and Nicole Christensen, chief nursing officer at Essentia Health in Fargo, said health care workers are leaving the profession for less-stressful jobs.

“This is a cry for help from our health systems,” Mahoney said.

More information

The state's vaccine dashboard shows 52.9% of eligible North Dakota adults and 30.1% of adolescents in the 12-18 age group are considered fully vaccinated. North Dakota has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S., according to the CDC. People can go to https://www.ndvax.org or call 866-207-2880 to see where COVID-19 vaccine is available near them.

The coronavirus transmission risk is considered substantial or high in all of North Dakota's 53 counties except Eddy and Foster, according to the CDC's COVID-19 data tracker website. The CDC recommends people in those risk categories wear masks in public indoor settings. Burleigh and Morton counties both are in the high category.

A list of free COVID-19 testing offered by local public health units is at health.nd.gov/covidtesting. For more detailed information on coronavirus in North Dakota, go to www.health.nd.gov/coronavirus. For more information on coronavirus variants, go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant.html.

Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.

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